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Everything posted by Dante

  1. It does not follow that 'all governments will be enforcing the same objective laws' simply because objective political principles are discovered, not created, by men. These political principles result from a long process of induction and deduction, and people are not infallible or inerrant in this process. Consider the laws of economics; we are clearly discovering, rather than creating, these laws, and yet there is wide disagreement even among professionals about even the most basic questions. One central principle of Rand's philosophy is that individuals are not inerrant, that there is no automatic and guaranteed path to knowledge. Over time, the truth has an advantage in the battle of ideas, but there is no guarantee it will prevail.
  2. This is all true. However, this does not give carte blache for the government to keep out anyone that it wants to, simply because voters like it. A proper border policy would screen for criminals and enemy combatants, and keep those people out. Keeping out anyone else, on economic grounds for example, is an abuse of government power, and is just as illegitimate as any other time the government reaches beyond its fundamental purpose of protecting our rights.
  3. Each individual that is granted such authority as a member of the government also accepts the responsibility to use such authority to faithfully execute the laws of the government. Thus, whether this exercise of authority is legitimate or not depends once again on the legitimacy of the laws themselves. Governmental legitimacy is determined by whether these laws stick to or deviate from the proper function of government.
  4. Sorry to have introduced such confusion. The salient point here is this: The individual in the original post who opposes Law A (capital punishment) removes his explicit consent for this law from the government. The OP then goes on to claim that this means that the government is now initiating force against this person; that the withdrawal of explicit consent means that the government is now acting outside of its authority. This is not the case. The government does not need to obtain explicit consent from every citizen it represents for every law it passes. By participating in civil society, the individual has forfeited his authority over matters of the administration of retaliatory force, and his explicit consent is not required.
  5. Sorry, I was thinking about explicit consent, but failed to type it. My defense of that statement is above, in post 5.
  6. Consider the very next passage in that essay: Rand clearly states the issue on which men have delegated authority to the government if they choose to live in civilized society. I should have spoken more clearly: Rand's theory clearly leaves no role for the kind of explicit consent your example involves. One cannot participate in civil society and at the same time attempt to retain authority over the details of the use of retaliatory force. The type of explicit statement "I agree with the way in which the government is protecting my rights" is not a necessary condition for a citizen to be represented by the government. By participating in civil society, he has given up his authority in this manner. Correspondingly, the government choosing a different method of punishment than the one he would like is not an initiation of force against him.
  7. You can turn off the new style of quoting in the reply box with the "BBCode Mode" button, it looks like a lightswitch and it's the first one. This turns off all the other reply box functions, but you can toggle it on and off to quote in the old way and still use the other functions (bold, emoticons, etc). This solves the problem of copying and pasting quote blocks, at least for me. I'm currently using Google Chrome.
  8. This is not an accurate characterization of legitimate government. A government does not gain or lose its legitimacy based on whether it "obtains voluntary, uncoerced agreement from its citizens." Such agreement is not a necessary condition for a proper government. Rand's political theory is not based on any form of consent theory.
  9. Is the issue here simply judging the character of a person vs. judging an action by that person? That's an interesting topic, and certainly we wouldn't say a person has an immoral character from one isolated action alone, particularly if that action is 'out of character' for that person. However, the point of the dynamiting is that it's a powerful expression of the characteristic artistic integrity that Roark has displayed throughout the entire novel, so I'm not sure the argument works here.
  10. This is simply wrong, and it's a case of losing historical and global perspective. Our government is an absolute mess compared to what it should and could be, but the very fact that you're writing about this without fear of prosecution disproves your point, as there are countries out there where you could not write such things about the government. The American government has real and serious problems, but let's not lose perspective and pretend that we have the worst government that ever existed on the face of the earth. That's just silly. People talk about us being Greece in the next few decades, but don't forget: Greece is Greece right now.
  11. Stephen, Thanks for your reply. A theory of ethical egoism certainly has to justify any empathy and concern for others back to one's own self-interest, and I think this is precisely what the conception of caring about another's happiness does. It attains a direct and emotional benefit for the actor to do something good for someone they value. At the same time, an egoistic theory that claims to provide objective values cannot simply say that "whoever you happen to care about, you should act to value them" any more than it can say that "whatever you happen to value, value it" as hedonism does. We must have principles to distinguish which relationships are objectively good for us and which are bad. I think Objectivism accomplishes this in much the same way that it guides our choice of a career, so I'll use that as an analogy. First and foremost, one's choice of a career depends on personal, subjective values; on what one is passionate about. If I'm passionate about furthering the study of economics (as I am) then I should seriously consider this personal preference when choosing a career. However, if I'm passionate about robbing banks, say, or conning others, Objectivism provides a moral framework that enables us to reject 'bank robber' and 'con man' as rational career choices. Thus, Objectivism provides some moral constraints, within which our personal, subjective preferences play a major role in determining what we should do. Objectivism informs our decisions about relationships in much the same way. Much is left up to personal preference, to romantic attraction and chemistry, and yet there are objective constraints on what kind of relationships are 'good' for us. Someone that physically abuses you (to use an extreme example), or someone that constantly manipulates you, is objectively destructive to your life and goals. Even if you are in love with such a person, you should act to change that, much the same way you would strive to reform yourself if you felt pulled towards a life as a con man. Thus, I think we can say that valuing others and acting for them fits into our self-interest in the same way that pursuing a career that we love does. These things bring immediate and important psychological benefits, in addition to more clearly instrumental values, and we can still objectively distinguish the good for our life from the bad. This is what a theory of ethical egoism must accomplish, and I think Rand's does so.
  12. The fraud and the dynamiting are two separate issues. On the subject of the fraud, Roark realizes and admits that he was wrong to engage in it and pass off his work as Keating's. This is part of his character progression; he initially doesn't see the harm in helping Peter, he feels sorry for him, etc. However, by the end, he has made this realization: Roark begins the novel with a mistaken premise and an inadequate understanding of the consequences of helping Keating in this way. The progression of the novel then illustrates, to Roark and to us, the consequences of this error. In this respect, it's much like Rearden's initial flawed approach to dealing with family obligation: the events of the novel illustrate to him and to us the error in his thinking. The dynamiting is not a deliberate error Rand is using in this way. Rather, it is a powerful aesthetic statement about artistic integrity; Roark takes the only action possible to him that will protect the integrity of his work. The dynamiting and the fraud serve different purposes and are used in different ways in the novel, and must be analyzed differently.
  13. You characterize Galt's actions as a continuation of this view expressed by Kira; it's not that Rand changed her mind, her characters just got more "creative" about forcing. That's how I read your statements, at least.
  14. I don't know many public choice scholars who do. Anarchists generally are willing to use the arguments to support their viewpoint, but most public choice economists take the same approach to government that economists generally take to the market: we can improve outcomes with some selective changes. At least that's my impression.
  15. In the debate, John Mackey charges that following a strict conception of self-interest will lead one to disregard any actions taken for others. He accepts the dictionary definition of selfishness and argues against living by it, saying that we should take others into account and balance our interests with those of others. Kelley responds by disputing this conception of selfishness, as he should, and immediately refers to his own work on benevolence and its relation to selfishness. In so doing, he gives a hypothetical of a neighbor's house burning down, and discusses self-interested reasons to help that person. Namely, he refers to 'investing in a social practice' that he himself might need some day. This rebuttal completely misses the central point that Kelley should address head on. There's a much simpler reason why you might want to help someone in that situation: because you care about that person. This gets to a central question that Kelley, astoundingly, fails to address. The question is, what role do other people play in our own selfish values? Mackey contends that, by and large, the two are non-overlapping spheres; there's acting for self-interest, and then there's acting for others. Thus, his example of extreme self-interest is a narcissist that never acts for others. The important distinction for the Objectivist to make is that a narcissist is someone who fails to value other people at all! Selfishness is all about pursuing your own values, and the question is: can other people be values to us? When put this way, the answer is obvious; of course they can! I care deeply about many people in my life. Their happiness helps to constitute my own; their happiness brings me joy, and their pain brings me sorrow. This is what ties acting for others into self-interest, far more so than furthering some social code of helping. We can put some more meat on this issue by considering its application to some real-life questions of how we should treat other people. This will help to illustrate why selfishness is important even when doing things for others. Let's consider a couple of (related) hypotheticals. In the first, I'm considering going to the hospital to pay a visit to someone who's been injured. In the second, I'm considering spending the night by their bedside in the hospital, to keep them company and reassure them. How do I decide what to do in either case? In either scenario, the central question is: what does this person mean to me? The reference point is me, myself, my life. It might sound unfamiliar (and maybe callous) to couch the question in these terms, but I encourage the reader to take a second and actually consider this scenario. I'm sure there are many people in your life to whom you would gladly pay a hospital visit if they were sick, or injured. Coworkers, acquaintances, distant relatives, any number of people that you know and like well enough so that you'd take the time to visit them and brighten their day if they were hurt or sick. However, for most of these people, you probably wouldn't put your life on hold and sleep in a folding chair in a hospital room just to keep them company. You might like them, but you don't like them that much. But there are some people that you would put everything else aside to be with. Immediate family, very close friends, certainly significant others. When people mean a lot to us, we're willing to do a lot for them, as well we should be. I hope Mackey would agree that this is an appropriate way to act and make choices when we're "balancing our self-interest" against other concerns. My point is, in order to act this way, we need to look to ourselves, fundamentally. We do (and should!) treat people differently based, not on some cosmic scale of importance, but on what they mean to us personally. To rephrase this, we should take actions for them to the extent that doing so is also pursuing our own values. We should help them when it's selfish, in Rand's sense, to do so. In the debate, John Mackey states that he's using the dictionary definition of selfishness, and that it's Ayn Rand and David Kelley's job to justify using a different definition. Well, here is my justification: the integrating principle behind how we should treat other people and how far we should go to help them is inherently a self-oriented principle. It depends on what they mean to us, their relation to our life and our values. If you're willing to acknowledge that other people can be values to us, just as our career or our health or other such 'selfish' values can, then self-interest provides an overarching moral framework that integrates our actions towards other people with the pursuit of our own values. Mackey suggests that we should balance these two things, and perhaps he has some additional ideas as to how to do that, but the truth is this: we should balance acting for others with acting for ourselves the same way that we make decisions between our 'selfish' values, by evaluating their importance to us and paying fidelity to our values.
  16. David Kelley, founder of the Atlas Society, recently debated John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods and admirer of Ayn Rand, on the role of selfishness in our lives and in our societies. I just watched it and had a response that I felt compelled to write down and then share here. The debate is here: http://www.atlassociety.org/david-kelley-debates-john-mackey David Kelley defends Rand's conception of selfishness while Mackey accepts the traditional view of selfishness and argues that some selfishness is good, but too much is a bad thing, and it should be balanced with other virtues. I think this is an important position to respond to primarily because we hear it so often, and there's much confusion on the issue. Also, I don't think Kelley's response was nearly adequate. So, I'll post my own response to the debate in the next post, so as not to have a huge OP.
  17. She struck that passage because it no longer accurately represented her worldview, and she wanted to avoid the attempts of others to paint her mature philosophy with the same brush... which seems to be exactly what you're trying to do.
  18. 'Postmodernist garbledee-gook'? Public choice economics simply applies a central economic principle (incentives matter) to the behavior of politicians in government as well as businessmen in a marketplace. Fundamentally, it is about looking at the incentives that politicians actually face, and evaluating how effective a given government program or institution will actually be at achieving its goals, based on how it is structured. To the OP, public choice does point out some endemic problems that are faced by democratic systems. This is not the same as saying that the system is broken to the extent that we should just go for anarchy. In fact, we need to know about these incentive problems in order to design a government structure that minimizes them. Public choice doesn't speak at all to the purpose of government. What it does do is tell us the likely outcomes of different structures of government. In designing a government, we could make it more or less robust to a lot of these incentive problems. This is precisely what things like separation of powers, checks and balances, term limits, state vs federal authority, etc are intended to address. Public choice allows us to apply economic reasoning to the question of how an elected official or a bureaucrat might behave within a certain system design, and therefore helps us use economics to address how we should structure a government, given the purpose that we want it to fulfill. In short, it doesn't address the purpose of government, or replace political philosophy in this respect. What it does is tell us how to best translate a political philosophy into an actual structure of government, e.g. a constitution.
  19. Interesting... Wasn't there a priest character planned in AS (or maybe TF) but then was left out of the novel?
  20. Although I think this particular case of requiring Atlas Shrugged is ridiculous, we shouldn't give up trying to influence school curricula simply because schools are currently public. If a couple of creationists got on the school board in your county and started assigning creationist materials for science classes, would you push back? Or simply shrug and suggest that schools be privatized?
  21. ... You really see no option other than either to judge all of her characters' thoughts and actions as the paragon of virtue, or to disregard everything in her books? Nothing between those two?
  22. I think that's the wrong analysis. In my view, The Fountainhead is simply more optimistic about American society at that point than is Atlas Shrugged. Roark makes his case before the jury, and is acquitted. In The Fountainhead, beneath all of the ridiculousness of high society and the scheming of Ellsworth Toohey, the average American has respect for the integrity of a creator and for the sanctity of the individual and his creative work. Thus, Roark is able to make his case, and the public identifies with and accepts it. We see similar scenes in Atlas Shrugged; for example, when the crowd at Hank Rearden's trial bursts into applause at his statements, or when masses of people volunteer for the trial run of the John Galt line. However, the formal system is too far gone by that point, and Galt has to form his own system and demonstrate the moral bankruptcy of the prevailing system through a strike. Roark can make his appeal within the system and be left free to build on his own terms; but by Atlas Shrugged, Galt cannot.
  23. However, Brook doesn't allow these scenarios, because he further specifies the context of his statements: immediate self-defense against criminals, in a country with a legitimate government and a functional military that will defend you against anything bigger. In that context, your provision of your own self-defense does not require nuclear weapons, biological weapons, any of that. If that context doesn't apply; for example, if you're in a revolt (to use the case Brook discussed) then things might be different. However, when we're talking about the case of gun control measures being enacted in today's America, Brook's assumed context applies, and any number of weapons can be disqualified from legitimate self-defensive use.
  24. He doesn't define the line in practical terms, in terms of specific weapons, but he draws a crystal clear philosophical line between defensive and offensive weapons. The right to self-defense is an individual right that must be recognized by the government. There is no room here for trying to reduce shootings or gun deaths by banning specific weapons that are commonly used in such crimes. You look at the weapon, determine whether it is a viable weapon for self-defense or not, and then you're done. No 'banning this gun would reduce gun violence by X' or 'well, these guns are mostly used in a bad way.' It's either a fundamentally offensive weapon, and banned, or it's not, and you can have one.
  25. Christianity does not explicitly set its moral code against the interests of its followers, or 'completely oppose living for oneself.' It claims to preach an ethical code which benefits the practitioner. Rand herself did a good job of highlighting the contradiction between the egoistic focus on personal salvation and the altruistic code that is actually advocated: (from Letters of Ayn Rand p.287, written in 1946) It would be better to say that Christianity sets itself in opposition to the actual moral code that is compatible with living for oneself; it claims to lay out this moral code, but in actuality does not. On this I can only elaborate on Marc's previous statement (quoted above); the end product isn't a capitalist. It is someone who applies reason to every area of his or her life, and fully accepts and implements a moral code oriented towards self-interest and based on fact. You may share some ethical and political views of hers, but clearly not all.
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